The Care and Feeding of Your Colon

Like your heart, your colon is an organ that you totally ignore when it’s working, but it can make you plenty miserable if it doesn’t. 

Let’s start out with a mental picture. Put a tennis ball in a sock. Now try to make it come out the end of the sock by squeezing the sock. Got the picture? (Sorry).

That is how the colon works. 

The colon is a hollow tube about 8 feet long. The walls of the colon have muscles that form constricting rings. When these muscles contract in waves, it causes the colon to squeeze, working from one end to the other.

The colon does a couple of pretty important jobs. The remnants of digestion that enter the colon have the consistency of thin mud. Excess water is absorbed into the walls of the colon. Without this function, you would have a permanent case of diarrhea. Vitamin K is also absorbed in the colon, which is useful in keeping you from bleeding to death from the minor injuries of daily life. Pretty important stuff for such a lowly organ.

The American diet does not make for a happy colon. The reason for this is our food is “too good” that almost 100% of it is absorbed. One might say that the American diet is the rocket fuel of foodstuffs. There is so little indigestible material that it almost eliminates the need for a colon.  Therein lies the rub.

This low residue diet might be OK on dog food labels, but in humans it results in highly compact, low volume stools. The colon has to squeeze pretty hard to get that moved through the tube. Sometimes it squeezes so hard, the wall tears (the sock rips). That is how diverticula are formed (little pockets in the walls of the colon).

Another unfortunate effect of highly concentrated diets is the passage through the colon is very slow. Keep in mind that the stuff that goes into the colon is the stuff the body didn’t want. This causes whatever bad stuff you ate (like toxins or pesticide residue) to have more time to cause trouble. 

Going back to our tennis-ball-in-a-sock-analogy. If we wanted to make this easier, we could replace the tennis ball with a dozen marbles. Just a little squeeze would easily move the marbles through the sock. This is what happens when we add indigestible material (fiber) to the diet. We don’t make the colon work so hard, so it doesn’t get traumatized and cause diverticulae. Also, the transit time through the colon is faster, so some of toxic substances that enter the food chain (pesticides, cattle hormones) spend less time in your colon – that means less colon cancer.

Constipation of course, is also not a problem. The fiber traps cholesterol and removes it from you body. This is in addition to any cholesterol-lowering program you are on.

There is a veritable plethora of benefits to providing some fiber to the diet. “But,” you say, “Who has time for bran muffins and food with the consistency of sawdust?” Here we have an easy answer. There is a grain grown in India that has a husk that is indigestible, and when ground up, mixes well with almost any water-based beverage – psyllium. It is sold under various brand names (Metamucil among others). Simply take a rounded tablespoon and mix it with some juice and/or water. Drink it down morning and evening, and it will keep your colon busy and out of trouble. 

A happy colon will make a happier you.

Until next time,

Dr. B


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